Polish-Ukrainian unity will ensure Russia’s defeat, Zelenskiy tells Warsaw

Polish-Ukrainian unity will ensure Russia’s defeat, Zelenskiy tells Warsaw
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and First Lady Olena Zelenska in Warsaw on April 5. / Jakub Szymczuk/President's Duda office
By Wojciech Kosc in Warsaw April 6, 2023

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy arrived in Warsaw on April 5 for his first official visit abroad since Russia attacked Ukraine in February last year.

Zelenskiy travelled to Poland – one of Ukraine’s most dedicated allies in the West – as his country is widely expected to launch a major and possibly pivotal counteroffensive against Russia in the coming weeks. 

“The more ammunition we will receive, the faster we will deal with [Russia],” Zelenskiy told a press conference held jointly with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda.

Duda assured Zelenskiy of Poland’s unwavering support for Ukraine. The Polish president also said that more Soviet-made MiG-29s fighter jets – which require less training than more advanced Western aircraft – are on their way to Ukraine among other weapons.

“We handed over more than 300 tanks to Ukraine. We handed over the Krab gun-howitzers to Ukraine. We provide Ukraine with much other equipment … to help the defenders of Ukraine who heroically resist Russian invaders,” Duda said.

Poland is the West’s third biggest supporter of Ukraine in terms of supplies of military equipment after the US and the UK. 

The 38-million country is also the West’s key hub of military and humanitarian help and the home to over one million of Ukrainian refugees who arrived in the early weeks of the war to a heartfelt welcome from ordinary Poles.

Duda warned Europe against growing weary with the war, which, he said, is not simply Russia’s war against Ukraine but also a war the Kremlin has waged against “Poland, Europe, and the entire free world”.

“There is a temptation, fuelled by Russian propaganda and disinformation, for a ceasefire as soon as possible at all costs, and, consequently, to make peace with Russia … which in fact will mean that Russia will take the Ukrainian land, which it now occupies,” Duda said in an address later that day at the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

The Polish president called out European leaders, who “for many years carried out the policy of appeasing Putin”.

“That has borne poisonous fruit,” Duda said.

Throughout the visit, Zelenskiy underlined how important the war-forged Polish-Ukrainian ties have become for the eventual victory against Russian aggression. Both countries share centuries of common history – not without tragic events that have long cast a shadow on their relations. 

“Russia won’t win with Europe when Poles and Ukrainians stand united. We are going to enjoy peace together in everything, in the EU and Nato,” the Ukrainian president said.

Warsaw has emerged as the leading champion of support for Ukraine’s bid to become an EU member state and, possibly, to join Nato. Duda said he hoped for the alliance to work out “guarantees of security” for Ukraine during the Nato summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, this summer.

For any of that to happen, however, Ukraine needed artillery, tanks, and aircraft to win, Zelenskyy said.

Weapons have been coming to Ukraine although not at the pace Kyiv would have liked. Still, a counteroffensive of the Ukrainian army is expected any week now.

With Western equipment and freshly trained troops, Ukraine stands a chance to reclaim at least some of the territory currently under Russia’s control, military experts say.

While Duda and Zelenskiy emanated unity, the Ukrainian president’s visit to Poland took place in the context of the Polish government’s struggle to contain farmers’ anger over the Ukrainian grain glut that has depressed prices.

Just as Zelenskiy was getting ready to meet Duda, Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk handed in his resignation after the European Commission said it would like to continue the zero-tariff regime for Ukrainian grain imports.

The measure was devised to facilitate moving the grain through EU member states to markets Ukraine traditionally exported its produce, such as Africa or the Middle East.

But the grain has been stuck in Poland due to problems with organising logistics of getting on trains to Polish ports. Some local traders took advantage of the influx and bought the grain, which hit Polish farmers as prices fell.

“We discussed matters concerning farmers [and] we found a way out. There can be no difficulties between such close partners and true friends as Poland and Ukraine are,” Zelenskiy told a conference held with Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki without offering details about what the “way out” entailed.